Interview with CRITICAL Software MD, Neil Aries
Tue 19th April 2016
In each issue of Park News we get right to the heart of a Science Park-based business. In this issue, we interview Neil Aries, Managing Director of CRITICAL Software in the UK.
Tell me about CRITICAL Software. We provide systems, software and data engineering services for safety, mission and business-critical applications, helping to ensure clients meet the most demanding quality standards for safety, performance and reliability. The key sectors we focus on in the UK are aerospace, defence, transport and energy. One of our first customers back in 1998 was NASA, so I guess you could say we’ve always had pretty big ambitions! Worldwide, we employ about 400 people, with 40 here in the UK.
What are you working on at the moment? Energy is becoming a big area for us, especially smart energy. We’re supporting the UK smart metering roll-out, an unprecedented national infrastructure project that will see 53 million gas and electric meters installed in homes and small non-domestic properties across the country. Smart meters allow service suppliers and meter manufacturers access to meters via the internet so that there will no longer be a need for customers to enter readings themselves. It’ll also provide more accurate data which will mean simplified billing. Our involvement has seen us setting up the framework and supporting infrastructure for nearly two years, working collaboratively with DCC (Data Communications Company) who are coordinating with the energy suppliers. Software we’ve designed and implemented is due to go live later this year.
Who are your competitors? There are other software suppliers out there, but very few that focus on critical systems in the way we do. The UK is a competitive place when it comes to our key markets - like aerospace and defence - so it takes hard work, a great track record and expertise to grow a business. We’re committed to maintaining the excellence of our services and delivering the highest quality. Last year, we achieved 98% repeat business which means that our customers trust us. Many of our projects are time-critical with demanding requirements so we often have to think of smart ways to achieve delivery while never compromising on quality.
Tell us about your journey to MD. I’ve been in the software business for over 25 years now. I started with Westland Helicopters in the 1980s as a trainee and then joined a company called Aero Systems International (now BAE). I was there for 15 years, working my way up through team leader, project manager and technical lead roles until I left to do some freelance work. My technical expertise in the aerospace and defence sectors brought me to CRITICAL Software four years ago and I’ve been in my current role for two. I was really impressed with the Company’s work ethic, commitment to its customers and the progressive ‘Culture & Values’ that are in place here.
What are the Company’s ‘Culture & Values’? ‘Excellence’, ‘innovation’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘caring’ are the cornerstones of our business. One of our internal catchphrases is: “We care about the way we get to the top”. Not only do we treat our customers and our suppliers with honesty, professionalism and respect, but we put staff wellbeing high on our agenda, by offering a great place to work and fantastic benefits. We pride ourselves on operating fairly and ethically, as well as productively.
What would you say are the top three skills needed for success?
For me, it has to be creativity, flexibility and teamwork.
What outside influences have been important to your success?
I suspect this is an answer that a lot of people give, but I think my family has certainly been important for my own success. They help me stay grounded and keep things in perspective. Also, the CRITICAL Group provides a lot of support to each company under its umbrella, so this helps us strengthen the business here in the UK.
Where do you see the Company in five years? One of our long term goals is to be placed in ‘The Times 100 Best Companies to Work For’ list. We achieved a key milestone in our journey towards this when we were awarded an ‘Investors in People’ Bronze Award in 2016. We’ve got a little way to go to reach the minimum employee criteria, but at the rate we’re looking to grow this year, we could be applying to The Times as early as 2017.
Commercially, we see an extremely positive future in terms of growing the business, particularly within the space and energy sectors. We have an extensive track record of working in the space industry; I think to date, we’ve been involved in around 20 space missions and they usually have very long pipelines. For example, we started working on the joint ESA/NASA LISA Pathfinder Mission over eight years ago and it came to fruition with a satellite launch just before Christmas – it’s great to know our work is contributing towards breakthrough scientific discoveries!
What are the benefits of being based at the Science Park? We’ve been here for ten years now, starting at Venture Road and switching buildings as we grew. Our new base at Benham Campus is perfect for our current needs. We find being in a community of technology-focused companies contributes to an environment that encourages the growth of our business. Plus, the general facilities provided - from Lattes to The Club - as well as the outdoor areas, help us promote a healthy work/life balance for our people.